Weisberg Stables provides oasis for at-risk kids

At Weisberg Stables north of Indiantown Road, Karin Taylor is hand-feeding fresh strawberries to six red-foot tortoises so the fruit doesn’t get sandy. She’s just given Bennett the wallaby his bottle of formula.

It’s a typical morning at the 20-acre farm in Ranch Colony for Taylor, who worked as an international model for 12 years, starting with the Ford Agency at 18. Now 46, she owns Weisberg Stables with her husband, Bill Weisberg.

Not too far away, glossy miniature ponies with names such as Bling, Flowers and Star, are enjoying a trot, and in another area, three miniature goats — Blossom, Flash and Clover climb and jump on their wood structure. The emus — Juliette, Edwina and Edward — have their own space, as do the pot-bellied pigs Petunia and Poppy.

Those are just a few of the roughly 150 animals and birds fortunate enough to reside at the tranquil and beautiful well-tended farm dotted with pine trees, ponds and open green space and surrounded by a wooden fence. The farm works with five veterinarians specializing in the different types of animals.

But the farm is much more than a working farm. It has also become an oasis for visiting children and teens. Foster children and teens from Place of Hope, as well as those served by the Salvation Army’s Northwest Community Center in West Palm Beach visit to interact with the animals and enjoy the great outdoors.

Two years ago, Taylor and Weisberg, CEO and chairman of wholesale buying group Affiliated Distributors, purchased the property in Ranch Colony just north of the Palm Beach/Martin County line. It’s funded by the Weisberg Family Foundation, whose mission is to serve the disadvantaged.

“We brought all the animals here. At first we just had miniature horses, ponies and big horses, every size,” Taylor recalls.

Although Taylor had no prior experience operating a farm, she says, “You just figure it out. It’s what I love to do.”

The assortment that includes everything from miniature donkeys and rabbits, plus a couple of barn cats, continues to grow.

The couple resides in Palm Beach Gardens with their five children, three girls and two boys, ranging from 7 to 14. Taylor home-schools their daughters, and the boys attend a private school.

The three girls also take care of the chickens and sell the eggs the hens produce, usually one to two dozen eggs a day. The shells vary from blue to green, pink and brown.

“My husband is a true entrepreneur. He doesn’t believe in giving allowances. You have to earn your money,” Taylor said.

At first, the ranch was just a private family farm, and it still is, Taylor said. It isn’t open to the public, and it’s also a business with a staff of four. Weisberg Stables is a certified National Poultry Improvement Plan farm, which breeds and sells Heritage Bronze Turkeys and a variety of chickens.

Weisberg Stables breeds and sells miniature horses, and its 25 horses also compete in competitions. Ford, a Mustang, competed in Extreme Mustang Makeover. He was a wild horse who was tamed in 100 days.

But because they had worked with foster kids at Place of Hope, a faith-based non-profit that provides housing, services and more for abused and neglected children, they decided that outings to the farm would be beneficial for those children and teens.

About a year ago, Place of Hope began bringing small groups of children to Weisberg Stables to pet the animals and experience the outdoors for a morning or an afternoon.

“We worked with foster kids. We knew how challenging it was to find things for them to do that were fun and wholesome,” Taylor said. “I have a chance to make a difference in their lives.”

Taylor started to realize the positive impact that being around the animals was having on the children, and through research, learned more.

Last summer, a formal program called Unbridled Power was launched. Children and teens who participate in the Salvation Army’s Community Center’s after-school programs experience what is known as equine-assisted learning.

Through learning to work with a powerful 1,200-pound animal, participants gain self-esteem, self-confidence and critical life skills. Just being around horses can help people focus, slow down and become better attuned to themselves.

Mike Pinkney, executive director, Salvation Army’s Northwest Community Center, West Palm Beach, said more than 70 kids from the center have been to the farm, and 12 have participated in the equine-assisted learning program.

“Teaching kids how to handle large animals like horses also teaches them about their own emotions,” Pinkney said. “Some kids don’t realize eggs come from chickens. They get a real world experience out there. It’s a very cool and unique project.”

Interacting with the horses also provides the children a look at a possible career path, Pinkney said.

Charles Bender, CEO of Place of Hope, headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, said the Weisbergs have been supportive for years of the non-profit, which provides comprehensive services to 345 children and youth. Some reside in family-style residences on several campuses. Many of the children at Place of Hope have suffered previous abuse and neglect. Riding and working with the horses provides an opportunity they have not had.

“Being with large animals gives kids a sense of worth and of control in their lives when so much has been taken from them,” Bender said. “There are a lot of therapeutic elements to what goes on. It is not just a petting zoo. It is special for our kids. The ones who identify strongly with the animals and with the people working with them can take it to the next level.

“It’s really is a huge blessing to our community as a whole.”

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